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Day 17: Smara Camp

Michael Palin - SaharaMy request for a bin for the rubbish rapidly accumulating in our cramped quarters is met with a blank stare. Rubbish is a Western concept. What I wanted to throw away - paper, a spent packet of film, a mineral-water bottle - certainly wasn't rubbish to them, and as Krikiba and the children riffled through my pile of rejects, I felt embarrassingly over-stocked. What we see as basic necessities they see as complicated over-indulgences. Take toothpaste, for instance. Sidi and Khalia, the terrible twins, are fascinated by our teeth-cleaning rituals. Not just that we prefer to foam at the mouth rather than use acacia sticks like everyone else, but that once we've foamed we seem to have such trouble getting rid of it. At first light the streets of Smara are dotted with frothing Westerners looking for somewhere to spit out and little heads peering out of doorways to observe this quaint ritual.

Nor is toothpaste the only problem. There's a toilet paper crisis looming. All of us, family and crew, evacuate into the same hole in the ground. It's situated in a mud enclosure in the corner of the yard and is about the size and shape of a small slice of Hovis. There is a plastic jug of water beside it, which is considered sufficient for washing and cleaning. Those of us brought up to regard toilet paper as one of the essentials of civilised society are rapidly bunging up this delicate system and waste levels are rising alarmingly. There are reports that Krikiba has been seen coming out of the hut with a rubber glove on up to her elbow. I'm sure it's as well for everybody that we are moving on tomorrow.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 17
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: Smara Refugee Camp
  • Book page no: 66

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